Buddhist monks in Japan are taking Twitter by a storm with their humorous, tongue-in-cheek protest against a traffic fine one of their own received for driving while wearing his priestly robes.
Monks throughout the country have been posting videos and messages on social media accompanied by the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん (sōi de dekiru mon or “I can do it in robes”), demonstrating that their traditional sōi robes do not inhibit them from juggling, jumping rope, skateboarding, and any number of other feats of athleticism-meets-asceticism, let alone safely driving a car.
A recent news report by The Yomiuri Shimbun sparked this show of online solidarity. According to the newspaper, an unnamed monk in his 40s was stopped by a police officer in Fukui Prefecture in western Japan last September, and was fined for driving in a “constricting” robe.
The monk was reportedly on his way to a memorial service and was wearing robes that reached below his knees. Although monks often drive in their robes, the officer issued a traffic violation ticket charging the cleric with “driving in a kimono that could affect safe driving,” accompanid by a fine of a ¥6,000 (US$55).
Once word got out, it did not take long for the monks of Japan to find a humorous way of showing that their robes do not, in fact, hinder them in their everyday lives.
The first video, albeit without the hashtag, appeared on Twitter on 30 December. It shows Kojun Asada, a priest at Gokuraku-ji, a temple in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture, driving a skateboard with the text “Doing this kind of thing is totally fine in monk’s robes, so there’s no way it’s going to impact driving ability.” (Twitter, translation from Henmo)
Inspired by this initial post, Zuiho Yokoyama, a monk in Yamanashi Prefecture, posted a video of himself jumping rope with the text “So this happened. Not exactly a whole bunch of times, but there are some “double unders” here. #僧衣でできるもん,” giving rise to the #僧衣でできるもん hashtag. (Twitter, translation from Henmo)
Yokohama’s post has since been liked by more than 21,000 users and was retweeted more than 7,700 times. And other monks were quick to follow.
Toshiaki Mihara, the 33-year-old deputy chief priest at Zensho-ji in Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture, for instance, posted a video of him juggling several clubs, even catching one with his foot before flicking it back over his head.
Other monks have shared videos of themselves walking a tightrope, leaping, juggling, skipping ropes, or playing the guitar or the drums. The monks have even received interfaith support from a Christian pastor, who posted a photo of himself wearing his vestment, accompanied by the text “Um, I’m actually a Christian pastor, but this is the clothing I wear when I drive to the crematorium. If you Buddhist monks feel the need to make a stand, I’m with you all the way. #僧衣でできるもん.” (Twitter, translation from Hemno)
Pastor Kanegon shows his support.From twitter.com
The hashtag #僧衣でできるもん has taken twitter by a storm, and international media outlets have been quick to pick up the humorous resistance movement.
While some Twitter users have derided the monks for showing off, the overwhelming response to the videos has been positive, with some commenters drawing a comparison between robes and long dresses and skirts.
The original monk’s ordeal, however, is not yet over. He has refused to pay the traffic fine and has not responded to any follow-up demands, meaning that he could be formally charged and have his case taken before a court. If it comes this, the monk told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “I’d like to clearly state at a trial that I can drive safely in a monk robe.”
The monk’s Kyoto-based order has complained that the overly strict enforcement of the traffic regulation against “unsafe” clothing could prevent monks from performing their religious duties.
‘I can do it in priest robes’ — videos show monks performing neat tricks to support colleague (The Yomiuri Shimbun)
Buddhist monk ticketed for driving while wearing a robe sparks Twitter storm (The Japan Times)
Monks start #僧衣でできるもん“soui de dekirumon” campaign. English ver. (Henmo)
Monk’s traffic ticket for driving in robe causes a stir (The Yomiuri Shimbun)